Art Review: Joe Hesketh @ Newman Street Gallery

In 1612, the Pendle witch trials resulted in the hanging of 11 men and women who were falsely accused of witchcraft. To mark the 400th anniversary of this infamous event, artist and modern day witch Joe Hesketh has created a set of paintings that aptly went on display on Halloween.

Hesketh is a native of Pendle and last year she walked the Purgatory trail that links the two main sites of the trials. Coupled with the fact that she is a witch, this event has a significant emotional resonance with the artist and this is reflected in her works.

All of her works have an energetic and multi layered style to them. The works inspired by the village of Pendle are much more lighter in tone with an almost comical feel to them, but those inspired by the witch trials are much darker and foreboding – these are the highlights of the exhibition. The works include religious symbols referencing the way religion was wrongly used as justification for trying witches. The figures in the paintings are often featureless and have ambiguous gender, suggesting how they must have been seen by their persecutors – it’s much easier to hang someone if they’ve been dehumanised first.

The artists told us about how even though the world has moved on from accusing people of witchcraft the suspicion placed on those who are different still persists in some villages. She also added that Pendle residents don’t want their town to be turned into a touristy gimmick as this was a horrible chapter of history that should be a source of regret and not of celebration.

Hesketh has chosen to commemorate this horrific event with a set of powerful paintings so that more people become aware of the Pendle witch trials and recognise it for the travesty of justice that it was.

Joe Hesketh – A Pendle Investigation is on display at Newman Street Gallery, 18 Newman street, W1T 1PE until 22 November. Admission is free.

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